Kanji of the year 2022: war

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Here are the ten top places in this year's event:

1. 戦 (ikusa / tatakau)* Conflict; war 10,804 votes
2. 安 (an / yasui) Contentment; peace; inexpensive 10,616 votes
3. 楽 (gaku, raku / tanoshii) Enjoyment; ease 7,999 votes
4. 高 ( / takai) High; expensive 3,779 votes
5. 争 ( / arasou) Strife; dispute 3,661 votes
6. 命 (mei; inochi) Life 3,512 votes
7. 悲 (hi / kanashii) Sad; sadness 3,465 votes
8. 新 (shin / atarashii) New 3,070 votes
9. 変 (hen / kawaru, kaeru) Change; strange 3,026 votes
10. 和 (wa / nagomu) Peace; harmony 2,751 votes


*VHM:  Instead of a slash, there should be a comma between ikusa and tatakau, plus three more Japanese-style readings:  ononoku, soyogu, and wananaku.  There should be a slash before ikusa, preceded by the Chinese-style reading sen in front of the slash.

Reading the kanji in these ten places you can get a pretty good idea of what's on the mind of the Japanese people:

Leading the pack of reasons given for the selection of this character was Russia’s war against Ukraine, which began in February this year. People choosing 戦 had other reasons, though, including North Korea’s belligerent repeated launches of missiles toward Japan and across Japanese airspace, as well as the “struggle” seen among consumers trying to keep their heads above water as prices continued to rise while incomes remained stagnant. Other voters chose the same character based on its appearance in contexts like the Beijing Winter Olympics toward the beginning of the year, the dramatic competition in the Japanese pro baseball world this season, and the ongoing clashes in the soccer World Cup finals in Qatar.


Note that no. 10 is the opposite of no. 1.

The assassination of former leader Shinzo Abe was also cited by many news sources as one of the main reasons for the choice of sen / ikusa, tatakau 戦 as the kanji of the year.

Not to be outdone, each year the Kyosu Shinmun surveys professors across South Korea to select a four-character proverb (sajaseongeo) that embodies the year.  This year it was “gwa-i-bul-gae” (“making a mistake and not correcting it”).  What's interesting is that such quadrisyllabic hanja (= Jp. kanji / Ch. hànzì 漢字) idioms don't seem to need the Sinoglyphs to survive, at least in the minds of South Korean professors, but can be transmitted via speech and the Hangul alphabet.  The chief reason for this year's choice was the inadequate government explanation for the Itaewon Halloween crowd crush disaster on  October 29, though there were many other reasons given, such as scrutiny of first lady Kim Keon-hee’s doctoral dissertation, “A study on the development of fortune-telling contents using avatars”.

In its Chinese form “guo er bu gai” (過而不改) the phrase “gwa-i-bul-gae” first appears in the “Wei Linggong” chapter of the Analects. There, Confucius is quoted as saying, “To make a mistake and not correct it: this is a true mistake.”

The phrase also appears multiple times in the “Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty.” An example can be found in an entry on June 27 of the third year in the “Diary of King Yeonsangun,” which observes how Yeonsangun refused to correct his error when retainers objected to his employment of juniors.

The character conscience of the distant past.


Relevant articles

"Japan picks ‘war’ as kanji character of the year"
Straits Times, AFP (12/12/22)

"'War' selected as kanji of the year amid international conflicts"
Japan Times, AFP-Jiji (12/12/22)

"Kanji of the Year for 2022: Strife Comes Out on Top"
Nippon.com (12/12/22)

'To make a mistake and not correct it' voted Sino-Korean idiom of 2022"
Hankyoreh (12/12/22)


Selected readings

Below are listed only a few selected kanji 漢字 ("[Japanese] Sinoglyphs") from recent years, not Japanese words, the contest for which is a different matter altogether (see the last item at the bottom of this list for an example of the latter).

  • "Kanji of the year 2015" (12/16/15) — an / yasu[i] :  "cheap, inexpensive; quiet; relax, rest; repose; contented, peaceful; tranquil; calm; restful; welfare; well-being; safe(ty); stability, equilibrium; relief; peace of mind; easy-going", and so on and so forth.  by itself does not mean all of these things, since in most cases it needs to take on various endings or enter into combinations with other characters to have these different senses.
  • "Kanji of the year 2014" (12/20/14) — zei 税 ("tax"); rather extensive, so it should suffice to give an indication of how the selection is made and the nature of the ritual surrounding the public unveiling of the choice by a Buddhist monk at a beautiful Zen temple, Kiyomizu, in Kyoto
  • "Kanji of the Year: the tie that binds" (12/26/11) — kizuna 絆 ("bond")
  • "Bakugai ('explosive buying'): Japanese word of the year nominee" (11/14/15)

[Thanks to Don Keyser]


  1. Dara Connolly said,

    December 14, 2022 @ 3:36 pm

    The assassination of former leader Shinzo Abe was also cited by many news sources as one of the main reasons for the choice of sen / ikusa, tatakau 戦 as the kanji of the year.
    It seems more likely that Mr Abe's assassination would have motivated the popularity of the number 2 choice: 安, since it's the first character in his name. The link between that event and 戦 seems tenuous.

    This also shows that the choice of character is not necessarily motivated by its semantic content.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    December 16, 2022 @ 11:55 pm

    You're out of touch with what my Japanese-speaking colleagues, students, and friends have told me.

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